Racy Thoughts: No Media Sensation Without Representation

Having grown up in Miami, a place where being Latina placed me firmly in the majority, it didn't occur to me that many, many people in this country receive the bulk of their information about Latinos (that's my label of choice for people of Latin American background, by the way, for the purposes of this blog—"Hispanic" is a term I find problematic and often misleading) from The Media™. As a member of this odd group myself, I can say, unequivocally, that we're generally not to be trusted with most things, but most definitely not with anything relating to women, gender, sexuality, or race and ethnicity.

"But you don't look like J-Lo" is something that's been said to me, out loud, without a hint of irony. I think my reaction at the time was laughter, but also more than a bit of disbelief at how little the world outside my bubble seemed to know (or care) about Latinos and Latin America.

The main reason, I've since decided, is that categories are terribly important to people, both as a means of creating a sometimes helpful way to understand others, but also out of a genuine lack of interest in getting to research a given group on a deeper level. Skimming the surface suffices when the ocean gets a little too deep and stormy, to lay some metaphors on y'all. If Jennifer Lopez was, for this person, the cultural touchstone, the totemic symbol of what a Latin female looked, acted, dressed and sounded like, anything that deviated from this was a fluke or a negligible anomaly.

So what does any of this have to do with feminism? What it comes down to, basically, is the freedom—and the responsibility—to represent oneself rather than allow others to focus on a token member of a given group and make assumptions.

At one point, I had decided that "Latino" and "Hispanic" were far too broad and vague to be useful. How could an umbrella term that hoped to describe Quechua-speaking Bolivians, Chicanos who had been in the U.S. for multiple generations and spoke only English, and Cubans with roots in Africa who spoke Spanglish possibly be useful? So I figured "Cuban" would suffice as a response to "So, like. What are you?"

Eventually, I stumbled upon a Latino blog I began to read regularly. When I learned they were hiring, I decided to go for it and apply for the position, despite finding the label problematic. As I began to interact with our readers—people I had a lot in common with, even despite our differences—I realized how important the term Latino could be, especially given that many people don't have the luxury of choosing whether nor not to subscribe to certain identifying groups. Here's this label, which along with all the positive and negative connotations you didn't sign up for, wrapped around you like a garland and it's up to you to make of it what you can.

The thought process behind self-identifying as Latina also helped me become a feminist: I couldn't change the way people viewed me based on the categories I'm assigned, but I could be an active, not passive, member of a group that was trying not only to level the playing field, but also provide a platform for people to represent themselves. And that's the main reason I think that identifying as Latina (as opposed to just being Latina) and as feminist are important, and are evangelical movements. You live and speak and work according to a set of beliefs while having this all observed and analyzed through several filters of cultural and social expectations, and you attempt to convert more people to something that amounts to more than a cause—it's part of a system that shows, publicly, that cultures are not unchanging or monolithic. No one person or voice, no matter how popular or prevailing, could ever accurately represent feminist thought or Latin culture.

In that same vein, I'd be remiss to begin a blog on the intersection of race, gender and pop culture without mentioning that, in reading various other blogs on all three topics, I've kept happening upon the same complaint: that pop culture and many feminist publications often exclude or oversee the unique perspectives offered by women who aren't white. So this blog, then, is a group effort, with your comments and experiences forming an integral part in fostering a thoughtful and inclusive discussion on feminism. Bienvenidas.

by Alejandra Alvarez
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12 Comments Have Been Posted

Very Excited

I'm so excited to see more diversity on Bitch. I am an avid reader here and Latina as well. It' s refreshing to find that I'm not alone on Bitch- I was beginning to think I might be. It's also been my experience that identifying as Latina has helped me become feminist. I think my culture, which a lot of white folks see as inherently sexist, has helped me become a stronger feminist with perspectives that non-Latina/os might not expect. Can't wait to read more from you!


yes! the seventh paragraph sums up so much of what is important in activism and being vocal about activism for me. this is just such a great essay, thank you so much for sharing it.

I am always happy to see

I am always happy to see more non-white feminists speaking up. When people ask me, what I am, I say I'm Chicana (well, half at least ). I would like to see the day when, if it has to be around, Latino is more like Asian; a superficial commonality, but double quick to acknowledge their own unique culture. I think both Latino and Hispanic are too problematic to deal with. Although, both are better than Spanish, as they say back east.

I'm sorry, I guess I'm just

I'm sorry, I guess I'm just ignorant on the matter... but why is "Hispanic" problematic? I've always used that term, because I hate when people refer to all Latinos as Mexican.

Personally (and I'd love for

Personally (and I'd love for others to weigh in on the issue, too), I find that "Hispanic" places too strong an emphasis on Spanish background (and this is coming from someone who is both Hispanic and Latina).

While it's true that the Spanish colonized Latin America and passed down language, religion, customs, etc. to a huge number of people, not every person from Latin America is necessarily of Spanish background -- or wants to be associated with the colonization of this area.

I prefer "Latina/o" because it refers to a region first and a wide variety of culture second, so that, say, Argentines of German background or Quechua-speakers can be included in the discussion as well.

That makes sense. Thanks!

That makes sense. Thanks!


Finally some representation for some Latina feminists. I'm very excited for the upcoming blog posts :)

Keep it up, Bitch bloggers!

As a 50.01% white woman in

As a 50.01% white woman in America...
(well, hold on. Most people would equate me with being Asian/Mexican/WTF? yet the first thing out of my mouth is "I'm half eastern European" I guess I'm asking people to take a leap of faith and consider my opinions seriously)
who constantly has to explain why she is a bit of brown, I love this article. Just from the first paragraph. To be politically correct, I never felt ostracized enough before to write these articles (or comment on ihem) or even complain about/explain any odd statements. I live in central Texas, so being brown is only taken into account if you raise a fuss AKA say anything. The city I'm in is 50/50, but if you're fat, it's okay to degrade you no matter what color you are. Quite a few kinds of fucked up in here.

I guess there are many people who confuse South America with Mexico. This makes me feel better/shittier? about society because I thought only Americans were that stupid. At the same time, because you said "Latina" I assume you are as hot as either Penelope Cruz or Salma Hayek (I refuse to acknowledge JLo exists. Plus you must be able to teach me a hot salsa dance. Also, I imagine you dress in red a lot.)

Screw that, your words alone are hot. Go you! Also, i'm dumb for assuming you want your mind to be called Sexy. I really mean that I look up to your cleverness. Please excuse my idiocy/lack of grammar but I'm from USA. I'm only kind of kidding. Now I'm depressed.

I love any use of sexy that

I love any use of sexy that goes beyond the usual "so and so has a hot bod." So, yeah, being told my mind is sexy is a compliment! Thanks!

this bitch can write. and by

this bitch can write. and by bitch i mean hispanic girl.

oh yes.

Bookmarked and subscribed.

Go, Alex, go!!

"So, like. What are you?"

I get that question when I introduce myself. I get that question when I pay with my debit card and the cashier reads my English last name. I hear, on a regular basis, "Your name doesn't fit you." It makes me wonder what kind of categories people use to understand others and how a name (which I had no control over) makes a difference in which category I will be placed in their mind. Also, I often wonder how many people think Alex is male and read/comment with those categories in mind.

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